This is Part 2 of Busking in Barcelona. To read “Busking in Barcelona Part 1: Why I Turned to a Life of Busking,” click here.
Maybe busking is something that’s looked down on here and in the United States. Maybe we are clumped in with the legions of beggars playing some out-of-tune ukulele. The type who are just backpacking through Europe and part of their busking strategy is just hoping to seem derelict enough to merit some form of charitable donation.
Even if that’s the case, in many ways it’s what I think every musician should be doing. If you have trouble getting enough gigs to get experience, what better way than to find a place where you can play and get instant feed back? If you’re good, you’ll get paid. What better way to get over stage fright than putting on an unsolicited performance in the middle of a city square? Here are 10 reasons why I think you should let the public pay you for your music through busking.
1-It’s Only About the Music (No Need for Ticket Sales)
When I lived in Roanoke, VA, it was hard to get gigs. It’s always based on how many people you can get to go to them (if you wanted to be invited back or demand more payment). There’s always lots of marketing involved and you might as well consider yourself a politician. When gigs are starting at 10pm at night, and in bars, if you don’t go out all the time and have bar-hopping friends, you’re not going to have much of a crowd who will go to your gigs. It’s equally hard getting gigs in Barcelona. There’s a lot of competition and bars are loyal to the bands who have been playing there and it’s hard to break in as a newbie.
2-You Get Paid Band Practice
It’s also hard being in a band in Roanoke. Roanoke, VA is a bit unique in that though the quality of musicians is good, and there are really good people to form relationships and complete projects, the level of commitment needed is hard to find. Most people aren’t full-time musicians. They are instead spouses, parents, full-time workers at other professions, someone who plays in 3 other bands, and then finally, when they may have time, can help you out occasionally when all other priorities line up to allow it. Understandably, it is hard to get enough rehearsals to get tight as a band. When you can get paid band practice via busking, you can finally get tight as a band.
3-You Get New Fans and Are Advertising for CD Sales/Gigs
Obvious Point: You will get more attention if you are playing outside of your house versus sitting in your room. There is an even higher probability of getting discovered on a busy street in an international city than in a karaoke night in a truck stop bar.
4-You Can Play Your Originals
If you can perform your originals just as well as your covers, people will still want to listen to them. You might even be paid more for your originals if your covers tend to be songs that every busker plays, such as “Autumn Leaves” and “When the Saints Go Marching In.” Or worse yet, songs from Morrissey’s later solo career.
5-You Get Instant Feedback
I admit, sometimes there is not really any valid feedback. At times people are just really hot and miserable and they don’t want to listen to music. Even when U2 staged an impromptu and incognito busking session in one of NYC’s metro stations, people weren’t that excited. But, if I can play a song and I, on average, get a good reception from it, I know that I’m doing well. If I never get any response from a song, I know it needs more practice or some people just don’t understand Weber’s atonality.
and sometimes not so instant feedback…
Sometimes I don’t even judge by what I get paid. I judge by whether people pass me and smile or give me thumbs up or sit and record me with their phone.
6-People Cry and You Remember Why You’re Doing This in the First Place
I promise I’m no sadist, but I love it when people pass me and have tears in their eyes. It feels amazing to be able to influence people emotionally.
7-You Meet so Many People
At least 3-4 times a week I get someone asking if I’d like to be in their documentary, band, entertainment for their company’s event. Sometimes I even meet a new friend.
8-It Pays to Be Solo
This only applies if you are a singer and an instrumentalist. I miss the camaraderie and companionship of playing with my original busking partner, but also love the freedom it provides. Little differences over what songs we both wanted to play led to us playing the same 15-20 songs on repeat. I became so bored. I enjoy the process of playing solo only because I can now play “Hallelujah” (a song he refused to play because it was boring on guitar) or whatever song I fancy at the moment. It’s not so easy to make enough for 2 people either. Also, if you’re the primary vocalist, you’re going to realize there is a limit to how much you can sing a week. On the other hand, someone who just plays an instrument can play many more hours than you can sing.
9-You’re your own boss
I only have myself to blame if I show up later to a spot than I wanted. Mostly I’m sacrificing my social life that night as I usually play before going out. Do I need to ask off before going to Berlin for a week? What happens if I find myself in the middle of a pleasant Saturday afternoon and don’t want to go into work that night?
I can do as I please. I like making money so I’m able to reel that impulse in a lot, but for others who prefer to party, they might not be able to work without the structure.
10- Join the Rich Tradition of Other Buskers
Rod Stewart, Tracey Chapman, Beck, B.B. King, Janis Joplin, and MGMT, had all used their experience as buskers to propel them into the main-stream music industry.
According to a former journalist in NYC, who I met here in Barcelona (who now lives in London): “For awhile MGMT was just busking and floundering around. We never thought they’d actually make it, but they started to get better from busking and gradually got discovered.”
So What’s Keeping You From Busking in a Public Space? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.